Karie Bookish Dot Net

On Devaluating Hand-Knitting

November 2013 166

It’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve taken some time off. I have more time off soon which means I’ll be away from my office for the first time since .. Christmas last year. Ahem.

I have collaborated with the very lovely Old Maiden Aunt on something which will be released whilst I am away from my office. We began plotting this almost eight months ago. It is crazy how quickly time flies. The photo shoot happened earlier this week – you can see the beautiful Glasgow tenement buildings to the left. Ah, don’t let the winter sunshine fool you. It was bitterly cold.

But let us talk a bit about knitting. It’s a bit of a ramble from here on in.

Earlier this week, I met a talented girl who had designed and knitted a 4-ply jumper for a client. The client had asked the girl to supply the yarn as well as design/knit it. I asked how much the girl had charged?

An entire 4-ply (fingering-weight) jumper from design conception to finished item and including the yarn. £35. Let me repeat that: thirty-five pounds.

When I asked her why she’d charged that little, she shrugged and replied: “Because the client didn’t want to pay anything more and even baulked at £35”. I got very, very angry at this stage. I didn’t get angry at the girl because she was obviously just trying to make a little money. No, I got angry at a marketplace which so devalues hand-knitting to the point where a customer baulks at paying more than £35 for a custom piece (including materials!) and manages to get away with it. Make that a marketplace in which the customer manages to get away with it again and again because I have heard the same story many times.

That is not okay.

Why is it that hand-knitting is so devalued? Skilled artisan-makers like the girl I met are paid pennies when they should be earning pounds. Is it because hand-knitting is predominantly female-centric? Is it because history has taught the marketplace that hand-knitting is something poor people do to make ends meet and poor people can be exploited? Is it because hand-knitting is perceived as being ‘a hobby’ that people do between their ‘real’ jobs? I looked at hand-knitters and I am amazed at their skills, patience and talent. Maybe I am wrong – certainly the marketplace tells me so.

I have never knitted for money –  but I do get asked an awful lot if I am willing to take on commissions. Usually the punter wants me to whip up an aran cardigan because a machine-knitted acrylic version is deemed too expensive. When did we move from “mass produced” = inferior to “mass produced” = superior? To my mind, a one-off piece created by a skilled artisan using excellent materials should always be considered more valuable. How do we change this perception?

I am not an artisan maker and while I hesitate to label what I do, I’m probably more of an artisan makar. “Makar” is an old Scottish word for “poet” or “bard” – and I think of my knitting designs as a way of telling stories with stitches. I care about how hand-knitting is perceived and treated. I know exactly how much time and skill go into designing and writing a pattern – what does that say about my time and skill that Ravelry currently holds 122,147 free patterns? How could I possibly add value to a pattern (and price it at £3) when 122,147 patterns are free?

It’s a weird job I have chosen and it is a strange industry too. All I can do is hope that you’ll like my collaboration with Lilith (note: it involves an essay about cholera, false teeth and William Morris). I’ll be back with a gift-buying guide for the knitters in your life. Treat them well: they are super-skilled and deserve a treat.

69 Thoughts on “On Devaluating Hand-Knitting

  1. i’ve been asked many times to knit a pair of socks or a sweater, hat, etc. for someone and i always say no, for the reasons you describe here. what i will do, is knit a gift, for someone i know will appreciate the work involved.

    as for your comment about free patterns. i have several free patterns on ravelry, but for free, you get a pattern that hasn’t been test knitted or tech edited. and i provide minimal support. so it’s not that i devalue my work (or the work of designers who make a living designing).

    • G Bartle on November 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm said:

      I agree with you here for sure – knit for love, not for money. Most people won’t pay enough. And as for free patterns, most are simple and uncomplicated, sometimes ugly. I will gladly pay for a pattern I love, rather than use a free one I don’t!

  2. Ugggh I’m so with you. And how did she even buy a sweater’s worth of yarn for £35?!? Yikes.

  3. I love the idea of telling stories with stitches!

  4. Hm, two things: Firstly, I experience the exact same disregard for skill and professionalism within my field of word, the translation industry. I think both knitting and translation to the naked (uninformed) eye have a quality of “I could do that if only I bothered”. Many people don’t realise that it takes more than rudimentary knowledge of a language or a ball of yarn to actually turn out a professional, high-quality product.
    Secondly: You ask “When did we move from “mass produced” = inferior to “mass produced” = superior”? I think we’ve seen the same movement in the food industry – but that has moved back again. To my parents’ or maybe grandparents’ generation, “store-bought cookies” were a delicacy that signalled wealth and luxury. But to me it’s a sign of surplus – of energy, time and money – to bake my own cookies, make my own jams and pickles (and, actually, knit my own clothes). Maybe, hopefully, knitting will make that move too …?

  5. Holy moly, that’ a crazy price for a sweater. Sitting in my LYS this past week, I heard a knitter balk at the price of good wool yarn for a sweater. I’m not sure how to get people to see the light.

  6. Elizabeth Belle on November 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm said:

    I’ve also been asked to knit for pay but was lucky to consult a seamstress for advice. I didn’t do it because I felt it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    I really hope the talented girl charges more for her design/knit services because it sounds like she didn’t break even, in the end.

  7. Kelli Ann on November 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm said:

    Oh, *yes*. Thank you for putting my own feelings & frustration into such eloquent words.

  8. I agree that we have to change the culture, but until we say no to absurd commissions, then people will take advantage. Ow as tot he free patternson Ravelry, I have both paid and freeness. The free ones are pretty simple, usually less than a page of instruction, and don’t require special explanations. A couple could’ve used as Christmas tree ornaments, for example. The paid ones are more complicated, and offer more value. Is it tough to sell patterns? Yes, but also because everyone can easily design and sell — there’s such an overwhelming amount coming out each month! No easy answers to that one.

  9. I am so glad that you wrote about this subject! I have always been really careful knitting to someone that doesn’t appreciate handicrafts. If the client thinks my price is too high I just tell the person to knit himself or herself. This has been a problem as long as I remember. People don’t understand that even if it is easier for a talented person, you still need effort, time, and patience. And money.

  10. Totally agree with you on the sweater; so completely wrong.

    On free patterns, though; which I sort of feel is a separate issue to the design and making of a unique item to commission… I have one paid-for pattern on Ravelry. I knitted it 3 times, and several other people also knitted it before I put it up there (and I’m a proof-reader and copy-editor). I also have a baby blanket based on cricket sweaters which I’m going to write up as a pattern. I’ve knitted it once, and I won’t be asking for test knitters; so I’ll be putting it up on Ravelry for free, caveat emptor. I do believe you get what you pay for, on a sliding scale, in terms of patterns. Or at least you *should*…

  11. That is an absolutely outrageous price for a sweater. The yarn alone probably cost more than that. I almost never take commissions because people simply won’t pay what I want to charge. I prefer to give my handknits as gifts.

    As for patterns, I have many free patterns in my Rav library but I’ve also bought quite a bit. I have no problem spending $5 on a pattern for something I love. I know that work that goes into designing a from scratch and while it’s awesome that people choose to make their patterns available for free, I also think you deserve some compensation for your hard work.

  12. Utterly outrageous. I do knit for others but only as a gift or for pattern testing for occasional people. It’s not right that people expect so much for so little.

  13. Excellent post. I think a rise in the “disposable” clothing culture we have here has contributed to this, as well as knitting not being as valued as other crafts. Because clothes that at least look good are available (even if they don’t fit properly and come apart when you move your arms) at low low prices, people “expect” to pay less across the board from items of clothing. But ask someone if the price difference between a cheap, plain cabinet made from inferior wood and a custom-made, hand carved mahogany masterpiece is justified and most people would probably say it is.

    However, you could not pay me enough to make a sweater out of 4-ply ;)

  14. Carol Evans on November 24, 2013 at 9:54 pm said:

    I only knit for family now. I used to knit the garments for various yarn companies, and they paid a rate per ball which meant I would knit a sweater for £6.00 (in the early 1980’s). Still a pittance. Today I spin and knit for those who appreciate the work and skill involved.

  15. When I’m asked to make something for someone the first thing I do is respond with “sure, there’s about 20 hours work in that piece. Because you’re a friend I’ll only charge you half my usual rate so let’s say £10 per hour makes £200 plus the cost of the materials.” Funny to watch the look on people’s faces as you break it down. I then follow with “or, I could teach you how to make it yourself”. Of course I’ll sometimes make a note of what they like and put that aside for future birthday present ideas.

  16. I only knit for me and sometimes my family if they’re lucky. If anyone asks me to knit them a jumper I say it’ll be at least £200 and then yarn on top, and they’ll have to wait a year for it, at least. Funnily enough no one asks now. This is a topic that ires me on many occassions, and there has definitely been a devaluation in handmade items, so I’m trying my hardest to show people the time and effort that goes into what I make. It is also why I turned to weaving as its quicker :)

  17. I think this is a historical problem which dates back to the Industrial Revolution, at least, if not before. Before that it was possible to make a better living in some places by knitting than it was by farming, but reading Richard Rutt’s History of Hand knitting, the figures he quotes suggest that the going rate for knitting did not change much between the end of the 18th century and the 1920s/30s while the amount the money could buy declined considerably.

    Recently someone was (yet again) telling me how I should be selling things I knit. She then went on a week or two later about a craft fair she’d been to and how the things had been very nice, but rather overpriced… even when I pointed out that the glass items she was looking at were hand made she still thought them overpriced. I feel like I’m somehow not trying hard enough because I don’t sell my knitting and yet if I did I would get pence per hour for what I make.

    It’s all a bit crazy and I think other makers and craftsmen suffer from it too.

  18. Well said lady! I get asked about commissions all the time, and people really don’t seem to realize this is not a cheaper option. I am not the super clearance rack! I do knit a lot of gifts for friends a loved ones, because they can truly appeciate the love and time that goes into a handmade item.

  19. Knitting is something I was never able to master, and I admire anyone who can not only do it, but do it well. I sew, quilt, decorate custom cakes and do some needlework. Until I started quilting, I used to think that people were nuts to pay so much for a handmade quilt. Then I learned how much work goes into it. I also will make things as gifts for people that I care for, but refuse to do for money. You wouldn’t be willing to pay what I would charge.

  20. I totally agree with what everyone is saying here. I am a professional arts/crafts events organiser with nearly 15 years experience in the industry and as a keen hand knitter, occasionally selling the surplus, I have a fair understanding of the problems you describe. Even after all this time it still amazes me how “ignorant” customers can be when it comes to the cost of producing handmade goods. If I had a pound for every time I have heard the comment, “I can do that for half the price” over some unique, beautifully made quality item (and in the presence of the maker) I wouldn’t need to buy a lottery ticket! I have also had conversations with many new traders over my event pricing – I am not cheap but I do deliver quality events in high end locations. If you believe you are a quality provider/producer then take yourself seriously and price accordingly. Similarly, I have had many would-be events organisers who think what I do is easy-peasy, then try and fail to deliver on their events. It isn’t rocket science. If you know what you are doing, have spent many years perfecting your craft and believe in yourself then price your work accordingly. Those who appreciate what you do, the skill and effort, will support you and buy your product. Those looking for a cheap favour can either go for mass produced items or learn to do it for themselves.

    • I do not have any answers just ideas. I have recently created some simple items for kits and have knitted up versions of them in good yarns in order to take photos. I did think of selling them as already knitted articles but won’t do so unless someone offers a realistic price. There is so much pressure to make the article cost seem reasonable, that the making time and skill is totally devalued.

      I am a yarn retailer, KnitOwl.co.uk and as such am happy to give good discount to Knitting artisans who purchase enough yarn to give me a reasonable return. I understand only too well how hard it is to charge for the skill and making when using quality yarn.

      A company run by a well known model employs a team of knitters to knit hats and scarves in really good yarn and prices them at an average of £100. Her knitters don’t have to supply the yarn and they get a fair price for their services and a bit of notoriety. I think it successful because the owners have connections and a certain cachet due to involvement in the fashion industry.

      Fred Perry have released some free patterns based on their design – what would happen if they licensed them for use by skilled knitters and allowed some association with the Fred Perry brand for little or no cost to the knitter?

      Prince Charles has done an awful lot to promote the Campaign for British wool but maybe it is now time for the Campaign for British knitting!
      What would be the effect of the Duchess of Cambridge promoting British Knitters? Maybe it would raise the profile of hand knitting to the level it deserves. Gosh the possibilities are endless – Gorgeous clothes for her; stylish clothes for Prince William and baby Prince George and then all the potential for interior design products. Am I only dreaming?!

      A modern take on the “By Royal appointment ” for talented knitting Artisans would do wonders for changing the perceptions of consumers. it would be a terrific way of encouraging folk to, once again understand the inherent value of “slow clothes” – quality, made to last hand knitted goods. A chance to turn away from the “fast clothes” culture which doesn’t pay fair prices for the labour of the largely poor and vulnerable.

      Earlier in this discussion the following observation was made:

      “The way society has evolved in the west, skilled labour has largely been out sourced to ‘third world’ countries, and we have bought their skilled labour so cheaply for so long, that we have completely lost touch with its actual value in terms of time and skill.”

      Let’s start a campaign to change this!!

  21. My mother makes bespoke silk lampshades clients always say but I can get it for so much less in John Lewis. People don’t seem to understand that they are receiving a bespoke piece for which they should be being charged at least costs and the minimum wage per hour it took to make.

  22. It’s tricky, I think. For example, on the topic of paid patterns, I was appalled at Purl Soho’s recent pattern they published of simple hats. Charging something like $9 to tell folks how many stitches to cast on in PS’s own line of yarn to make an incredibly simple beanie seems outrageous. However, they’ve done their marketing and have built up their store and their reputation and are very good at catering to the well-heeled but first-time out customer, who wants hand-holding to cast on, but cashmere to do it with. Good for them, I guess.

    It’s a difficult thing because there are two parts of the knitting community at odds. Those who are seeking others out at knitting circles to find SOMEONE who understands and can help figure out where the sleeve went wrong or properly admire the shawl, and are happy to help a truly interested person learn how to knit. And those who are also trying to make a living at it. I’d teach a neighbor to knit for free, and even give them yarn and a set of cheap needles to get started. But that doesn’t help my other neighbor who charges people to teach them knitting, or the local yarn shop, selling yarn for a business. In the long run, it may help them, because the new knitter may go there for supplies for the next project, but not now – similar to the free patterns/paid patterns. If I knit 7 hats from free patterns, I may be ready to knit the really interestingly designed one for which I have to pay for the pattern.

    From the outside, it’s easy to see a person who does this for fun. And being one who doesn’t do it or thinks they couldn’t do it or otherwise totally doesn’t “get it” – sure, why wouldn’t you think that they want to do it for their own fun (because they’re knitting anyway, right?) and your pleasure (because you sure would like that sweater). People who don’t have a hobby like this don’t calculate the back end of how many projects you must be interested in making for yourself or for whomever else – they don’t know that there’s NO shortage of ideas and plans and things to make. And also what the investment is. If I were known to friends as an avid cookie baker and seeker of new recipes, I wouldn’t be offended if someone requested a special batch. I’d be pleased, and flattered, and not put out or troubled, because it’s just a batch of cookies. They don’t know how different that is from “just another sweater.”

    I even do this to myself – I knit and sew for fun, but haven’t the time to knit or sew everything in my life, by a long shot. But I want nice things. But I don’t want to pay for them. And I sometimes have a hard time motivating myself to make things when I could just buy them – why invest months of my free time into a quilt I’m not certain we’ll love in the end, when there’s something available for the price of batting that I can tell I’ll like well enough. And yet the one I can buy at that price is not so great, but the one that is really lovely is so expensive I may as well make one, but I don’t have the time and I’m not sure the one I make will be perfect, so… the 12 year old bedspread I’ve never liked lives on. Having a friend who makes similar things seems like a perfect out – get what you want, bespoke, but don’t pay for “truly” or “real” bespoke (read “a business that must turn a profit and is structured as such”).

  23. Sherry in Idaho on November 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm said:

    First, IMO, the word devaluation should be changed to devalue or devaluing. There is this notion that handmade is homemade because we could not afford to buy the article and it is therefore homemade to save money. The knitters who charge small amounts also devalue knitting by charging such small amounts and cutting out the artisans who are truly artists.

  24. I own a wool shop and we knit commissions and I absolutely agree with every said here.

    I have lost count of customers who complain about the cost of patterns (£3) so I explain about the designing, the knitted samples, the tech editing, the photography, the printing costs etc, etc and then, maybe, some of them get it. I tell them; designing is the most expensive part of having a brand.

    Then I get the customers who arrive swearing that they only knit with pure wool or pure alpaca or pure cashmere ….. if I had a pound for all of those customers who then leave 20 minutes later with a bag of acrylic because they won’t pay for the pure wool they swore they only knit with, I’d be a wealthy shop owner!

    I charge a reasonable price for knitting commissions and if the customer doesn’t like my charges then I simply don’t knit the item! I recently knitted a pair of socks for a disabled gentleman and charged £20 for the knitting on top of whichever wool he chose. He was happy with this and so was I. However, a customer in the shop expressed shock at “how much I charged for the knitting” – turns out she knits for another wool shop in England and gets paid …… wait for it …… £3.75 for a PAIR of socks!!!!! I was appalled and told her so – I wouldn’t even cast on for £3.75. So, it would appear that some shop owners are abusing the goodwill of knitters too!!

    Judging how much to charge is always difficult and the only rule, really, is that both the customer and the knitter must be happy with their side of the deal.

  25. lloeren on November 25, 2013 at 6:39 pm said:

    My own mother suggested that I sell one of my shawls at a craft fair for 70€. She has a friend who has said ‘Well, we just do it for the cost of the materials and little bit on top.’ She will not listen when I say that this is devaluing my work. She says ‘Well, it’s just a small local market’ but of course this attitude is so pervasive and if everyone selling at small local markets says the same thing then we get this attitude. Someone once suggested I sell handknitted socks, ha ha!

  26. I’m so glad you’ve said all this, Karie.

    I was thinking about this the other day when my window cleaner came. He charges £10 for cleaning about two thirds of the windows of my small terraced house. I asked him what he would charge to do the other third (difficult to get to) and the conservatory roof. He quoted me £20. He was on my property for less than an hour.

    The reason I think that certain relatively unskilled labour is more valued than extremely skilled labour such as knitting is that in most cases, the customer is present or can visualise the former, whereas they are further removed from the latter, are not able to visualise it, have no idea what it involves. The way society has evolved in the west, skilled labour has largely been out sourced to ‘third world’ countries, and we have bought their skilled labour so cheaply for so long, that we have completely lost touch with its actual value in terms of time and skill.

    Unfortunately, now that wages have not kept pace with inflation, and the economy has gone to the dogs, this situation will not be reversed. It will take another post-industrial revolution to change this and to bring skill back into the UK/European economy.

    This is just my reflection after years of disappointment and incredulity.

    I rarely sell hand knits now, but I did try last weekend at a local fair as a one off. It was another gut-wrenching experience as people balked at paying £20 for a hand knitted child’s dress (which I failed to sell at a proper price previously) and turned round and spent £30 on a pair of mass produced, run of the mill, ugly pyjamas from the stall opposite. I rest my case.

    • “The way society has evolved in the west, skilled labour has largely been out sourced to ‘third world’ countries, and we have bought their skilled labour so cheaply for so long, that we have completely lost touch with its actual value in terms of time and skill.” – I love this observation, Libby.

  27. Absolutely. Argh!, you’ve said it so well.

    What gets me too is how the sewing industry seems to have pitched their patterns at a higher price – you pay more to print off a sewing pdf (which in the end costs you more again because of the number of pages to print and stick together) than a knitting pdf. To my mind they should be at least the same.

    I’m not sure how we go about changing perceptions – I’ve got as far as nodding and agreeing enthusiastically when I’m told how clever I am at knitting. And, when I’m asked to whip up a sweater for someone, I bore them senseless with a long explanation of how much time it will take to make it, how much skill goes into it and then tell them my worth per hour. Needless to say – I’ve never knitted for money.

  28. I have knit for pay, but only for yarn stores/manufacturers. I have test-knit for the manufacturers/pattern-writers and knit samples for stores. Those generally pay fairly well, but not enough to live on. I take them on for a little extra cash when I have some extra time outside of my day job.

    I am currently knitting a sweater for a friend, for free. She purchased the yarn (US$140!) and she’s my closest friend. (She’s also a size extra-small!)

    I’m also contemplating knitting a couple baby blankets for another friend for pay. I said $60 per blanket, yarn included. The lovely friend, having never discussed prices with me before, replied with “Wow, that’s cheap!” That statement earned her a place in my heart forever.

    As far as free patterns go… When I first started knitting and I was still learning and using lower quality yarn than I use now, I often would choose free patterns specifically. This was partly because I was being miserly, but also because my skills weren’t up to doing justice to “better” patterns.

    Now, I have no problem paying for a pattern if it appears to be a quality pattern, well written and edited. Of course, I don’t know that for sure until I purchase the pattern (if it’s a digital pattern). I use Ravelry as a major resource when searching for and deciding to purchase patterns. I read user’s notes on their projects and look at finished items to be sure it’ll be something I can/will knit.

  29. Sadly I think that anything ‘handmade/homemade with love and care is perceived to the be ‘cheaper’ than mass produced

  30. I’m seeing a woman who knits as part of her own business, it doesn’t pay the bills in any way shape or form and given the amount of time it takes it should do.

    I’ve tried knitting in the past and I just can’t get on with it, I have however started taking up Crochet as something to do when I am at my partner’s knitting and crochet group I’m starting out with something simple (a scarf using triple stitch) using a black silk and viscose mix yarn (I have been told I’m insane for this as a starting yarn and colour), it’s not easy, but it will be satisfying once completed and will almost certainly be worn a lot.

    People don’t think about the amount of work that goes into knitting or crochet by and large because we live in a society where you can walk into a shop and by a knitted acrylic item for about what the yarn costs in somewhere like HobbyCraft.

    As for the cost of knitting patterns some of the things that my partner has said are on sale on Ravelry are just daft (Granny square? Really?), so I would imagine that of the free patterns there are some that you would think it was daft to have them going for free, however that is the prerogative of the person who created it, they may not want any money for something which they created simply for the joy of creating after all, I would also imagine that there is a certain amount of overlap between patterns.

  31. Peggy Rauhut on November 26, 2013 at 1:59 am said:

    Agree with all of the above. As to why knitting is devalued- I feel it’s the “2 sticks & a string”- we don’t have a loom or a kiln or any big impressive equipment. We can carry our work along to doctor appointments, ball games, traffic backups! I’m never without a project in my bag & am asked “who are you making it for?” For to make money- that’s why! I may look like a little old grandma but I am a professional. Even having said all that, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It keeps me sane.

  32. http://fstoppers.com/every-photographer-should-read-and-study-this-infographic

    This problem is not particular to knitting – you may find that the solutions other disciplines have found transfer readily.

  33. dornbeast on November 26, 2013 at 2:26 am said:

    It isn’t just hand knitting. Musicians, for example, are also horribly undervalued, as are painters, writers, and illustrators. I think there may be something about Western culture which has turned against the creative people.

    I’m not sure what a pattern on Ravelry looks like, but I would not be surprised if it looks as understandable to me as SQL or PASCAL would appear to somebody who had never seen a programming language. I have no idea how long it takes to learn what is necessary to read a pattern, but I doubt that it’s the sort of thing somebody learns in a long weekend. As for the skill necessary to do it quickly, I’m inclined to assume most people would need at least two years. I may be wrong, but it’s probably on the low side.

    Perhaps people don’t realize what artists worth, because they’ve never thought about what true mastery is, and what it takes to get there. (Would they ask somebody who had a two-year degree from a technical college to build a computer or install a network at these rates?)

  34. 10 years ago, when eyelash was all the rage, I’d knock off a scarf at night when I got home from work and sell it at the office the next day for $40, making a nice profit. Nobody balked at the price.
    Forward a couple of years to when that fad ran out and I’d take a week of evenings to make a baby sweater. Back at the same office, people wouldn’t even pay $20 for one, never mind $40. I spent multiples of effort and couldn’t collect proportionately.
    Is the moral,of the story that people want flashy, trendy things?

    • The moral of the story is that there is no shortage of knitting in the world – handmade or otherwise. Why would people pay a lot for something that is easily available? If you want to make money, make something there is a shortage of. If you enjoy knitting, that has to be enough because you can’t rely on making a living from something just because you like doing it. If you enjoy doing it there are probably plenty of other people who do too – its just simple market economics.

  35. oh and lets not forget spinning i just have a hank that will be adound 5.5 oz and i have about 60 hours in (i spin really fine) probably about 800-1000 yards and i will be really lucky to get $40. for it :-(

  36. I sell my crocheted items, but I tend to only sell small items that I can make a profit on. My mother can’t believe what i charge, or that people pay, because in her mind, the item is only the cost of materials (she could make it herself for less and assumes others could too!) However the bigger the item, the less profit I make!

  37. I’ve also got a few free patterns on ravelry, but they are simple crocheted motifs, I don’t believe I should charge for them! But I support pattern makers and purchase them often!

  38. I enjoy knitting and do so with ‘donated wool’!! I knit dog sweaters mainly and ask that a donation be made to an animal rescue! That way every one is a winner!!!

  39. Knitting is devalued because it is seen as a hobby for amateurs and this is the basis on which the majority of knitters work. Even knitters find it hard to think of projects in terms of their value because mostly they’ll do an hour here and an hour there and maybe a longer session from time to time. This makes it hard to estimate the hours of work and therefore what they should be paid for a piece. If the knitters can’t value their own work, how can you expect non-knitters to do so? If you want to reverse this perception of the generous hobbyist who whips up a quality knit in no time in their spare time, then designers need to start putting the (average or estimated) number of hours required to knit a piece on the patterns. I recently did a test knit for a designer and was taken aback that the fairly simple knit was estimated at 40 hours – I’d never have thought of it in those terms, rather as a job for 2-3 weeks elapsed, as and when. A lot easier to cost the former than the latter, no?

    • Now that really is an interesting idea – putting the estimated number of hours to knit a pattern on the pattern itself. Of course knitters vary a lot in their speed of knitting, but if there was some way to calculate an average speed, that would be very useful. Someone who oohed and aahed over a handknit sweater and thought you could just whip one up for them, might change their mind (and about the price too) when they saw the estimated number of hours needed. And that might work towards changing the perception of the value of hand-knitted items. I would only hope it wouldn’t discourage new knitters or those wanting to learn.

      I agree with so many of the comments made here and it just makes me angry and sad about our throwaway consumer culture where we really don’t know the full cost of the cheap clothes we buy, made out of cheap materials that don’t last. I’d never knit for commission and like most knitters who have had knitted gifts for people who really don’t appreciate them and probably think it’s a “cheap” alternative for a gift, I’m really careful now about who I knit for. Actually, with few exceptions, the best people to knit a gift for are other knitters/crafters. I was so touched last xmas when a cousin of mine gave me a gift of handmade soap. I have no idea how long it takes to make handmade soap, but it was a beautiful package and I just appreciated I was worth some of her free time.

  40. More than once I’ve had people tell me I ought to sell the socks that I knit, often the same people I’m giving the socks to as a gift. I tell them that to pay for materials and a (meagre) wage for the time spent I would need to charge about 50 dollars a pair. Which is too much for a pair of socks when very high-quality machine-made socks can be got for less.

  41. I’ve been crocheting and knitting items for friends for a while. I set prices low because I don’t want to scare them off, and because they’re friends. But when I realize how little I’m getting for my labor, I come close to quitting, becoming one of those gift-only crafters as so many other commenters here have identified themselves.

    On the other hand, the prices for items on Etsy or similar sites seem very high, the kind of prices I’d like to receive. I need to build up the nerve to ask that much!

  42. I didn’t have time to read all the comments so I apologize if the points I’m about to make have already been made. But they are as follows:

    1. people who don’t knit don’t have any concept of the number of hours a project takes. When people ask me to knit them something, I tell them the number of hours I estimate it took to make it and ask them if they really think they can compensate me for that time. Usually the answer is no.

    2. people who don’t knit also have no concept of how much LONGER hand-knit items will last. I have afghans which I knit that look as good as they did when I made them over 20 years ago. I don’t have any clothing that I wear regularly that lasts nearly this long.

    I don’t see how anyone could make a living out of knitting until these perceptions are changed. Perhaps if hand-knitting were seen more as art than manufacture? I sure do wish this wasn’t the case, however, because I’d love to knit for a living.

  43. Yes yes yes and more yes! I tweeted this, but I will also share on my facebook business page and my tumblr. What you have said here needs to be shouted from the rooftops because people don’t freaking get it. Hand-made items take a lot of planning, skill, and most importantly, lots of time. A person’s time is valuable and deserves more than pennies per hour. That doesn’t even dig into the price of yarn, either!

    The biggest reason that I don’t sell knit or crocheted items in my Etsy shop is because it takes me too long to make nice items. I don’t feel like I could get a decent monetary return on my effort. I see other sellers with large, beautiful knitted items that are WAY too cheap for the time it must’ve taken to finish them. Not to mention the price of quality yarn… It hurts my heart to know that these sellers must work so hard only to receive a tiny fraction of what their time and skill is worth.

    The only knit items that I would ever be willing to sell in my shop are my headbands. They take about one hour, start to finish, and don’t use much yarn. I know it’s possible to find a cheaply made, mass produced headband for $5 or less (U.S. dollar; that would be about 2 pounds, or 2.50). At the same time, my headbands are the result of more than two years’ worth of refining my knitting skill. I’ve experimented with the pattern I created, searching for better ways to join the stitches into the round, bind off, and weave in ends. My headbands are durable and pretty, and I’ll be damned if I charge less than $10 for one.

    Minimum wage, which is already way too low to sustain even the most impoverished lifestyle, is just $7.25/hour in my neck of the woods. If I can get paid $7.25/hour to work at a fast food restaurant, helping “the man” earn a profit by working with materials that I didn’t pay for, then I’d better get at LEAST $10/hour for my skill and the years of experience spent creating a high quality item that will last a long time. If you don’t like that, tough. My time and skill are too valuable to bother with people who disagree.

  44. Stephanie on November 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm said:

    You are so on the mark with this post! And I am beyond comforted by the fact that there is someone else out there who truly gets infuriated when fiber artists get pennies for things people wouldn’t think twice paying ten times as much for if it had a “designer” label!

  45. I only ever use free patterns, because I can’t afford to pay for them, especially not if I want to use a pure wool yarn, which is my preference 95% of the time. If I want to give my kids the handknits I loved from my own childhood, I need the patterns others will generously share freely.

    • I hear what you’re saying. The fact is that some people prefer to offer their patterns for free, or even enjoy it, and I’m cool with that. Whether or not to charge for a pattern should totally be up to artists when I’m benefiting from THEIR hard work! Lord knows that I use tons of free patterns, too. At the same time, when I make something from a free pattern, I like to blog about it so that any readers who see my post will see where I got the pattern. That way I give at least a little bit back to the creator by linking to the pattern and maybe sending some traffic his/her way.

      For me, the problem occurs when an artist wants (or needs) a monetary return for all the hard work and time spent on designing a pattern, but feels unable to do so because customers don’t appear to value that work highly enough. In the case of the artist in this blog post, it’s grossly unfair not to pay her an appropriate sum for all the work she put into the project. She didn’t just knit it by hand. She also designed it (which can feel like solving a neverending math problem) AND bought the material for it. What makes it downright insulting is that she did all this at the request of the customer. Customers should be prepared to pay for commissions. High quality, personalized work demands appropriate compensation.

      Personally, I just published a free scarf pattern on my website, but I have ads on my site and an affiliate link within the text of my post. I don’t feel like I should charge for the pattern I created because 1) it’s not that original, and 2) it’s a tweaked version of the generic knit 2 purl 2 ribbed scarf pattern we’ve all seen a million times. However, hosting ads on my site could get me at least a little bit of financial return for my pattern. It’s a risk I’m taking financially, but I think it was the right choice in this situation.

  46. In the clothing world it seems to be acceptable to pay for hand tailored suits from Savile Row, or a Chanel couture jacket…….why is there not a correlation when it comes to knitwear? It’s no different!

  47. Yes! This is exactly what my series Stories In Stitches is about.

    And I can’t wait to read what you’ve been working on!

  48. I saw a pin on Pinterest awhile back that summed it al up nicely:

    “Knitting is like sex; if I like you and you appreciate it, it’s free. Otherwise you couldn’t pay me enough”

  49. I for one am grateful that free knitting patterns exist. If I had the money, I’d be buying patterns rather than just using free ones, but at the moment it isn’t possible. I’ve bought patterns in the past, when I was working. Occasionally a friend buys me a pattern on my wishlist, because I love drooling over patterns on Ravelry, even if I can’t afford them right now. It is like painless windowshopping, since with any luck, that pattern will still be available when I do have money for patterns.

    One thing a free pattern does is bring a particular designer to my attention. That doesn’t mean I will necessarily buy a pay pattern from that designer later, but I will look more closely at the pay patterns of a designer whose free pattern I loved when I knitted it up.

  50. thefrugalcrafter on November 27, 2013 at 7:12 pm said:

    Here here! I was knitting at the pool the other day and three people asked me if they could buy my scarves, I replied that I don’t sell my knitwear because I cannot get my time and materials out of it. I went to see The Hunger Games 2 with some girlfriends and one said to me “Lindsay, you need to whip me up one of those Katniss wraps” and I am thinking the yarn alone will cost $60 and I bet you would only pay $30 LOL! We need to educate on the time it takes to hand knit and the cost of materials because I bet if any of these customers walked into a independent yarn shop they would be floored at the price of good yarn. We need to educate! Keep up the good fight;)

  51. I knitted little teddy bear and stocking decorations (from Little Cotton Rabbits) to sell for charity last year… I knitted about 80 bears and twenty stockings and they’re from a lovely pattern, my colleagues were encouraging me to price them at 3 for £5… I managed to talk them into 2 for £5… We had several people ask if they could be cheaper, and one lady trying to haggle us down to 50p… and I repeat these were for a local cancer charity!

  52. Somewhere I read the suggestion that when someone asks you to “whip them up” a pair of socks, you should ask them what they will do for you in return that will take a solid 15 hours of their time. And I’d add that the materials alone for good socks would be *at least* $10-$15. That usually gets rid of them :) I have so many patterns I want to make, I don’t want to spend my time making something I don’t love for somebody else. There’s also a poster from around the internet that says something like, “Knitting is like sex: If I love you and you appreciate it, it’s free. Otherwise, you can’t pay me enough.”

  53. (Sorry, I just saw that someone else already quoted the “Knitting is like sex” line.)

  54. I think it’s an issue with our mass produced world. (Now I’m American, so take this with a grain of salt I suppose.) But in my experience, no one understands the value of anything they haven’t done themselves. I am also a photographer and this is a problem across all skilled professions. I only knit for gifts, and I get asked all the time to make socks and sweaters for people. I tell them, that while I would be happy to, my base rate is $15/hr, plus expenses. Figure on a minimum of 5 hours for medium-length socks and 30 for a sweater. They look at me like I am insane, but I have gotten the same way with my photography.

    As for a solution? There really is not one that doesn’t require a massive global depression that shuts down mass producers. Everyone thinks because the kids in Taiwan work for pennies an hour, everyone else should. Never mind the years it took to perfect our skills.

  55. As someone who works in a knitting shop, I’ve been forced into valuing my knitting time in order to offer finishing services, etc. I charge .17 a yard or $20 an hour, whichever is more. Most are surprised at the price of hand knitting — a pair of socks can run $200. Oh, well. There are still those who pay it, but mostly for finishing, like sewing together or a button band. Oh, and it’s $20 flat rate to block a scarf, $40 if it requires pinning. Go figure.

  56. Ah yes, I agree entirely. Hand made goods have been valued at mass production rates which essentially means giving away your labour for free. I disagree about the free pattern thing though. Folks know that when you pay for a pattern you are buying tech editing, reliable size grading, pattern support and in your case your essays. Free patterns serve another purpose which is about building relationships and sharing knowledge and ideas within a community of comrades. Those who use free patterns also buy patterns, particularly as their confidence builds. I think the only way to properly value hand made goods in our society is through trade in kind. Great post.

  57. I totally agree with you! (Excuse my english its my 2nd language) I’m in Canada working and teaching at a LYS. I’m trying to educate my students on these issue. Usually after making a pair of sock using a yarn of about 16$(the cheapest we have in store) in more than 20hours. They will answer no to people asking for hand-knits, since they know how long and skills needed!
    I knit items for sale and try to have good price but also pay my yarn and time! I do some custom order and my prices are always final, so the customer who really wants it will pay for it.
    I also design and add free patterns(usually simple or non revised/test knit) and other from 3 to 5$. People don’t know how it can be long and hard to write a good pattern and are sometimes fast to criticize.
    And it´s sometimes the same about knitting lessons…they find expensives classes, since they think their mother,aunt,grand-ma can teach them for free. But do they know how to teach? To read pattern? To make a specific cast on? Or simply to help chossing the right pattern for your skills? I think I have a good experience as much as a yoga or a piano teacher. I did fashion design studies, read french and english pattern, I can modify pattern. I deserve a salary as any worker on any business.
    People think knitting will be cheaper than buying it since it has been like this long time ago…when there was just WOOL(no synthetic). I often ask customer sating yarn is too expensive:”go to a store and try just to find a 100% wool sweater? Or 100% merino wool?” It´s rare!
    Enough said. Thanks for saying it out loud.

  58. Great post – couldn’t agree more! I’m always being asked if I do commissions, and I always use the “at least £10 per hour for skilled labour plus materials” equation, which tends to put people off a bit! I recently exhibited a sweater I made for my Dad at our Spinner’s Guild exhibition – it was handspun, 3 ply, fingering weight fairisle, designed by me. I was asked several times how much it would cost for me to make one for someone – when I told them it would be a LOT of money they would ask “more than £100?” Like £100 was the most money they could even contemplate spending. I’d charge more than £300 for a pair of handspun socks.
    I do give handknits away, however, to those that I love – and I know will appreciate it.
    I don’t know the answer, but united we stand. Thank you for this post.

  59. Katie Lynn on December 1, 2013 at 4:17 am said:

    Great post. I have been asked several times if I knit on commission, but have only ever had anyone take me up on it once. It was a woman who understood the value of the materials and time that went into the project. I gave her a fair price, breaking it down into labor and materials for her, and when I delivered it she paid me more than we had agreed upon.

    As to the free patterns on Ravelry, while there are many, I don’t often use them. They likely haven’t been tech edited or test knit, and there is little pattern support from the designer. Out of what I knit I pay for probably 9/10 patterns. Both because I enjoy the aesthetic of the piece and it gives me a little more confidence that everything is correct. I want to support the designers that are producing beautiful things.

  60. Like it has been said before – it is not only knitting, but also other areas of life that are experiencing such mis-understanding. I think it is the current culture of instant gratification – (warning: a vast generalisation is about to follow) people feel they are entitled to getting things they thing they want or need. Also, we have become so distant about different processes that we can not even imagine the journey that the products and services go through before reaching us.

    I think people need “educating” about what effort goes into crafts. The next time someone tries to haggle the price down, ask them what they do for a living, and if they would be willing to do it at half price because “anyone could do it (cheaper)”. This usually hits home :)

  61. rootchick on December 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm said:

    On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304791704579210031696650574

    Other than some of them having what’s apparently super-fabulous yarn, I suspect that these are mostly machine knit and are so costly because there’s a designer’s name on them. I’d love to crank out a couple sweaters a month and make a decent living off of them!

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